Gene Hoglan: The Atomic Interview

On the 9th of July we got some pretty heavy stuff for our Anarchy X show! None other than Franky Costanza, drummer of Dagoba, and Gene Hoglan (Fear Factory, Tenet, Mechanism, Zimmers Hole, Dethklok, ex-Death, ex-Dark Angel, ex-Strapping Young Lad, ex-Testament, etc) joined us by phone. As a result: we achieved an interview of over an hour with Gene as well as a one to one with Franky who was able to ask his idol some of his own questions. The exchange between the two was extremely constructive and highly emotional since we can say that the drummer from Marseille was ‘lovin’ it’ like a kid in a candy store.

This interview is not to be missed and its transcription is now available on our pages (just after this short mumble jumble). In order for its complete clarity, the interview has been reorganised into three parts. In the first part Gene reveals all about his DVD ‘The Atomic Clock’. In the second part we hand over the journalist title to Franky. And finally in the third part, Gene evokes his various bands’ histories and current affairs. We have also included Gene’s first small interview on the 7th of July during the same show. As you can see, we have made it all as complete as possible.

In fact, you will see that it includes something for everyone and every taste, and not only for drummers. So if you want to know all about the distinguished musician that is Gene Hoglan, read on!

PART 1 : The Atomic Clock

Radio Metal : Hey Gene how are you doing?

Gene Hoglan : Well Fear Factory started it’s third leg of the US tour last night. We played Los Angeles last night and now we are in the back of a tour bus travelling to our next gig in Portland, Oregon. So we have a long travel day today.

We heard that your tour bus broke down or something. What happened?

We just had some bus issues. We had a hard time getting it started this morning, so we ended up leaving four hours later than our original bus call. So just a few technical problems with the bus that’s all.

Well, we hope that this won’t compromise any of your dates…

No it won’t. We have until tomorrow to get there and we are on the road now so we got it all fixed. It just took awhile.

What are you up to now? We heard that you were releasing a new drumming DVD.

That is correct. I released it very recently and it is available on hoglanindustries.com. It’s called The Atomic Clock, and it’s an awesome and wicked drumming DVD that is super fun. It’s very informative and so far everybody who has seen it has really enjoyed it, so I am very fortunate. I have been told that it’s unlike any other drumming DVD out there because it’s pretty fun. There are a lot of instructional DVDs that exist where the drummer, guitarist or bassist etc is killer but their personalities are pretty boring. I’m not boring, so I tried to make it fun for anybody to watch it. There is a lot of tongue-in-cheek stuff about it, but it is also highly informative and it pretty much takes you into my world as I am playing. It demonstrates the things that I do in order to sound the way that I do and the suggestion is that if it works for me, maybe you could try it for yourself. The main thing I try to do with the DVD is be inspirational to anyone by insisting ‘if I can do this, you can do this, anybody can do this and there is enough room for everybody at the top’. Hopefully, drummers, musicians or even non-musicians will feel inspired to go out and do their own thing thanks to this DVD.

« There are a lot of instructional DVDs that exist where the drummer, guitarist or bassist etc is killer but their personalities are pretty boring. I’m not boring, so I tried to make it fun for anybody to watch it. »

What motivated you to make an educational drumming video?

It kind of started when Strapping Young Lad broke up and I was left with a sort of uncertain future so I figured that I could do something that sounded like fun, that would keep me busy and let me do my own thing for awhile. So I thought that I’d put out a DVD on myself, which didn’t intend on becoming on instructional DVD at first. I just wanted to fill a two hour video on me so I started setting out on doing it and that is when it started to evolve as an instructional DVD. If you see it, you can tell that it is pretty light-hearted and a lot of people have been telling me that it comes across as very human, unlike some of those stuffy and old instructional DVDs. It is not supposed to be like that because it’s supposed to be fun!

You mentioned that this was a way to keep yourself busy. So is this to say that you are a workaholic?

(laughs) Well actually, I do like to do nothing but it just never seems to work out that way. Although, one day if you see me win the lottery, you will never see me play drums again, I tell you! (laughs) I am very fortunate to stay as busy as I am. I get to play with a lot of great people and that was all that I ever wanted when I was growing up. I just wanted to play music for a living and now that I get to, it is pretty cool.

Often, educational videos from very technical musicians tend to be mostly inaccessible for beginners. Actually, I’m a bass player and when I first saw the educational video from Victor Wooten, I completely freaked out! So, don’t you think that some beginners will be discouraged by your video?

Well it’s not designed for beginners; it’s actually for Gene fans, as in people that are interested in me. This is why it is not really an instructional video and you can see this straight away from the blurb on the back of the DVD. Is it instructional? Who knows? So I guess that it is not designed for beginners, it is designed for whoever wants to see how Gene does whatever the hell he does.

You say that the DVD is for Gene fans overall, so are you telling us that no beginners are fans of Gene Hoglan?

Well I think that there is a lot of stuff on the DVD which I believe would appeal to beginners. For example, a lot of that stretching stuff and a lot of the leg weight work. I can tell you that if I have a bunch of people telling about this stuff when I was growing up then I would have been like ‘hell yeah! That would be awesome!’ There is a lot of stuff for beginners on there. It ranges from new beginners to extremely advanced to merely someone who wants to be entertained for a couple of hours. The main thing when I first started working on it was that I just wanted to make a two hour Gene DVD. When my director started editing it, he started going into the direction of making it into an instructional DVD and all of the other things that are on there could be extras. According to the flow of the whole thing, he thought that, since there was a lot of instructional stuff on film, we could do that. So I said ‘well ok, I’ll listen to you’ and all of the sudden it had become an instructional DVD when its original intent had been a couple of days in my life. If beginners or advanced folk like it, then that’s cool. However, it was originally designed for more than that and anybody, whether you are a guitarist, a bassist or not even a musician. If you watch the DVD, I just hope that at the end of it you think to yourself that that was a couple of hours well spent. ‘. There have been a lot of non-musicians who have bought it so far and then they have sent me an email saying ‘I don’t even play an instrument, I just like music and I heard that this DVD was cool so I bought it and it was!’ There are even a few comedy skits in the bonus features which you don’t normally find on instructional DVDs. It was definitely designed for everybody.

Do you think that for a bass player like myself, this DVD can help me become a better bassist?

I don’t know. It depends on whether you are into my style of playing or not. A lot of what I do on the DVD is rhythmic and there are certain sections that might help if you are more than just a metal bass player. There is some shuffle on there and some funk so you could play along with that and create some really cool stuff. Although there is stuff that could help you, it wasn’t designed for a bassist to become a better bassist.

You mentioned that there is a bit of funk in the DVD, however, you are considered as one of the most metal drummers out there. Do you play other types of music?

I always have. I am only known for metal but I have always been a complete drummer. It’s just that most of the projects that you have seen me playing on most of the ones that I have ended up recording with are so over the top metal that it becomes easy for me to be pigeon holed into a ‘this is all that this guy can do’ mentality. By playing on some really non-metal albums, I have tried to show some of the other aspects of my drumming. I always grew up with an open mind. I have always loved wicked and deadly metal but I also love funk and soul and pop music. I am not trying to tell anybody that they have to listen to other kinds of music because if you just want to be a metal guy then that it awesome. However, I listen to so many different styles and so I thought that I could try to do some other stuff. I like having fun playing drums and throwing rhythm around. This is why the DVD includes some shuffle, funk and non-metal projects. If they like it then that’s great and if they don’t then they can just fast forward it.

Are there any albums out there on which your fans can hear you play other types of music than metal?

For instance the early Devin Townsend work. It had a very non-extreme metal approach. Like when I did that Infinity record which I did with a single bass and any of the double bass sounding things on there were done by utilising hands and feet to make it sound like a double bass. There is also an album where I play some congas for instance and the Mr Plow album which is some really bizarre acoustic punk and folk sort of thing. Finally there is also a song I played for the album by Jilly C and her album is being close to being mixed I assume. So there is a lot of non-metal stuff of mine out there but it is not very known.

In the trailer for this DVD, we see you practising your foot and leg work in order to play on the double bass pedal and there were some pretty original practice techniques. Have you shared some secret drumming techniques on this DVD?

I think so. One thing is that I am a self-taught drummer in pretty much every aspect. So I have brought a lot of ideas to the drumming world which regular drummers haven’t considered. Since my style is unorthodox, a lot of that comes from the lack of rules imposed on me by drum teachers or drum schools. For example, twenty something years ago when I wanted to make my legs stronger and faster, I started using leg weights. Nobody had ever even thought of the concept of that before. Now, every drummer that I talk to says to me ‘my God, I never even thought of that’. My DVD is full of unorthodox drumming theories that work.

According to the interview in your DVD, it seems that you don’t really care about the semantics of drumming. For example, you say that you started playing blast beats before you even knew what blast beats were.

Yeah. There is a lot of terminology that I understand but it doesn’t mean that I use it. If I’m talking to someone who doesn’t know the terminology and I start using it, it just makes me sound like I’m trying to be intellectual. It’s better to speak in a term that allows us both to understand what the hell I’m talking about. The terminology doesn’t really matter, it’s more about the feeling that you get and the heart and soul that you put into it. That is something that I have always tried to put across in my drumming.

You told us that you’re a self-taught drummer. Would you encourage other drummers to also be self taught?

I would say that I was able to do my own self teaching because I was able to take my own destiny into my hands. Everything that I wanted to learn, I would learn and anything that was going to bore me, I didn’t learn. I still believe this but as I have gotten older, I would absolutely encourage young drummers to follow their own path more than anything. If you want to teach yourself then that’s awesome, but do not neglect some of the basics which was one thing that I did. I would say that you should follow your own path but do not neglect other people’s paths either.

Can this DVD help musicians to find their own personalities? Do you think that the drummers who will see your video will realize that pure technique is not the most important over having their own personality?

I would agree with that whole heartedly. That is the thing about music that is so much fun. It’s great to have technique but personality is way cooler. Both are important but when you couple technique with a lot of personality, you really have the best I think. I try to inspire some people of this by saying ‘hey man, if I can do this, then you can do this’. Technically, I am an ok drummer but my strength is my personality.

Do you think that listening to a teacher too much could detract from being creative? Is this the kind of message you’re trying to communicate with this video?

It isn’t really a message that I have ever thought that much about. I’m not really trying to tell anybody what to do but I do try to tell you what works for me. In the path that I took, I didn’t take many lessons but I taught myself to play and I tried to bring a lot of personality to the table. That is what I try to bring across on the DVD rather than trying to tell you that you have to things this way or that way. I just show you what I did and if you want to try it then maybe it will work for you.

We often see you playing with your shoe laces untied. Isn’t it a little bit difficult to play double bass drum pedals that way?

I play in big boots now but I used to play with my laces untied because I was just too lazy to tie them. I laced my boots up only once and then I switched to slip-on boots. As the boots got a little older and I started physically swimming in them, I decided to lace the boots up a little big. I play with boots and I play with a leg weight so I guess that’s already pretty unorthodox. I don’t think many people do that or would even consider doing that. I just think that there’s too much suffering to be had and I’m not going to be easy on myself. I’m going to play thrash metal, run a marathon while scream and wearing leg weights on my feet.

We have a listener who is a drummer in a band but he is a beginner so he only knows the basics. So, he wanted to know what brand of drums you would recommend for him as a beginner?

Pearl Drums is the company that I use and they put out some excellent beginner lines. When you don’t want to spend thousands of Euros on a drum kit but you want something that will get you to what you want to accomplish. They have some great lines; one of which is called the Export Series or the Vision line and also the Forum line. All of these lines are really awesome. Pearl makes some of the best beginner kits. There are a lot of great drum companies out there but Pearl have their shit together, let me put it that way. He can always just use good old pots and pans the way I did!

Gene to Franky : « Hey Franky, I just wanted to say that I’m a fan of your music brother! You guys are really killer and it’s an honour to be talking to you. »

PART 2 : Close Encounters Of A Drumming Kind

Franky, the drummer of Dagoba, has a few questions for you now. Franky : Hi Gene!

Gene Hoglan : Hey Franky, I just wanted to say that I’m a fan of your music brother! You guys are really killer and it’s an honour to be talking to you.

Thank you very much! I’m very excited and impressed to be sharing this moment with you. Now I have some questions for you. I’m a really big fan of the Death albums Symbolic and Individual Thought Patterns because the songs are excellent and the drumming is amazing. When you received the rough mix and tracks with a basic drum machine, how long did it take you to work on and record an album like this?

Well when we recorded Individual Thought Patterns, Chuck (Schuldiner) didn’t have a board machine or a track machine. Instead he had two ghetto blasters and he would play the song into one tape recorder, push play and then record the guitar into the second recorder. He sent me a riff tape with about ten songs on it. There were no drums and the riffs were a little bit all over the place so I came up with a bunch of crazy beats that might work with the riffs. It took us three weeks to do the album completely from start to finish. I did my drumming over the course of about three or four days. We rehearsed for about two or three weeks and then we went into the studio and it only took us a few days to record. With Symbolic, I got a very rudimentary drum machine from Chuck. He was only just learning to program but he was getting the ideas of the songs across. We rehearsed that album for about six to nine months, which was a lot longer than the three weeks for Individual Thought Patterns.

I have the album with the drum machine and I know that the work you did is incredible. I think that it must have been a great challenge for you but the result is really amazing.

Chuck had sent me an original demo with some drum machines and then I started playing those beats that were programmed on that stuff. We tried to record like a garage demo with me playing the drum beats and we just couldn’t get a good sound on the drums. So I asked Chuck to let me program it so that we could get a better sound for the demo. It took me about four hours for each song. This is why it sounds so similar to what we ended up doing on Symbolic, because I was already playing those parts and then I wrote my parts on the drum machine before tracking them.

On the album, I really love your playing of the cymbals. Could you tell us what two ride cymbals you used on this album?

They were a pair of Zildjian Mega Bells.

Were they the same on each side?

Yes, but of course they had a very slightly varied pitch so that they don’t just sound like one cymbal.

I heard that you have used a metal stack in the past.

Yes I have on a couple of occasions.

Do you use it just as an effect?

It kind of replaced a splash on the Individual Thought Patterns record. I had a ten pound brass metal boat propeller that I used to mount on top of the toms, where a splash would go. It had a really great tone so every time that I would hit it, it would spin once and it made a great sound so I used it a lot to make a ride bell effect. You can hear it all over the song ‘Overactive Imagination’ in the chorus. You can also hear it in the intro of ‘The Philosopher’. Anytime that it sounds like a ride bell, I was just beating on the boat propeller. As for the Symbolic album, I ended up getting an M14 Cannon Shell which looks like a really gigantic bullet shell. I mounted that and you can hear it in Symbolic on a couple of spots.

Who are some of your biggest influences?

I have had so many influences and you can hear them come out in certain albums. On the Individual Thought Patterns album, Steve Gadd was a huge influence and also Sean Reinert because I thought that his work on the album Human opened many avenues for metal in a big way. We were all fusion guys as well and we had all done some jazz rock, progressive rock and bands like Watch Tower. When Sean came along and utilized a lot of the same sort of theories, it opened up a lot for us. I also let a lot of Neil Peart (Rush) come out on that album, such as I was doing some of the licks from YYZ which would come out in the middle of songs and totally rip him off. Steve Gadd from the Al Di Meola era was a giant influence on some of my beats. Finally on the Symbolic album, Deen Castronovo was a huge influence especially for the rides and from the album Dragon’s Kiss (by Marty Friedman) and the ‘Forbidden City’ song. We were listening to a lot of that at the time so we decided to use it. I always like paying homage to my heroes. On every album I like to play a lick by one of my heroes.

I really love your showmanship and stick tricks. I also know that you are from Los Angeles. What do you think of 80s bands like Poison, Mötley Crüe and drummers like Tommy Lee? Did they influence your stick tricks and showmanship?

Actually, I suppose that those guys were an influence because I always thought that stick tricks were the most retarded thing ever. I thought that when a drummer is playing a Mötley Crüe beat and starts twirling his sticks it was just so corny. But when you get a guy playing thrash metal with blast beats and then they add some stick tricks, I think that can be pretty fun. It was kind of an irony that I started doing that in order to poke fun at all of those horrible bands from the 80s. I just figured ‘hey motherfuckers, you guys are doing all that when you’re playing BOOM – BAM – BOOM BOOM – BAM, so try doing the same when you’re playing PAPAPAPAPAAPAA blast beats!’ It’s kind of a big fuck you to all those cock rock hair bands.

Ok, that’s it for me. Thank you very much!

Right on fellas, I appreciate the conversation.

(Radio Metal) Franky told us that for his upcoming birthday on July 22nd he was actually going to get your DVD.

That’s awesome. Happy early birthday Frank!

« Devin (Townsend)’s ass is like two elbows put together. I have to admit that I found Byron’s ass way more interesting than Devin’s. » (Laughs)

PART 3 : Far Beyond Metal

We saw you at Hellfest, drumming for Fear Factory. How was your set?

Oh boy. That was a long time ago, but it was probably pretty good. I don’t remember getting off stage, going home and thinking ‘God that sucked!’. I remember that festival was really nice and really cool. Everybody there was really awesome.

Did you see any other bands play?

I don’t think I was able to catch anybody because basically we got there and then we had to get out pretty quick. However, I did get to meet the guys from Raven, which is always exciting and that was really cool.

The next day after you played, Devin Townsend played on one of the main stages. How comes you didn’t play with him?

I haven’t played with Devin since 2006 because Devin pretty much fired us all and doesn’t want to play with us anymore. I’d still play with Devin but he has a different career path now so he’s just doing his own thing and his own thing does not involve me playing for him. I understand though, it’s all cool.

Are you in good terms with him?

Absolutely! I love Devin. We are definitely still pals.

Since you know him quite well… Devin stated that his upcoming album will be like a trip in his own ass. We met Devin at the Hellfest and asked him some explanations and he said that he believes his ass is very interesting. Have you seen his ass and if so, is it as interesting as he claims?

I think Devin’s ass is like two elbows put together. I have to admit that I found Byron’s ass way more interesting than Devin’s. (Laughs)

You joined Fear Factory last year. How did you feel about replacing Raymond Herrera who is the historical drummer of the band, and much appreciated by the fans?

Well with that in mind I tried to pay respect to what Raymond did. He is a great drummer and when I joined I knew that there were some big shoes to fill but I had a feeling that I could do it. We play a lot of his material live and I get to play some great drum parts. We play a really mind-boggling song that he wrote and it’s really cool.

You have a new project called Mechanism. What can you tell us about it?

It is a Vancouver based project with myself and some guys from Vancouver as well as Val (Chris Valagao) the Zimmers Hole vocalist. The project started out when the guitarist Chris Schultz came to me and said ‘hey man, I wrote an entire album with your drumming in mind’. His band was always renowned for having the best drumming in Vancouver so I thought this was pretty intriguing because I always dug his stuff. When I heard his material I thought that it was awesome and I wanted to play on this. Then we recorded it and it took us a while to complete it because we weren’t in a hurry to get it out. Now it is sort of out, although we haven’t gotten an official release for it, we put it out ourselves and there are ways of finding it all over the internet.

When Devin Townsend disbanded Strapping Young Lad, were you disappointed by his decision?

Well of course. I’m not going to lie, I thought that Strapping was turning into something really cool and I thought that we were coming together as a band but Devin was just unhappy. He blames it on not being into metal anymore but perhaps he just wasn’t into us anymore. I thought Strapping was some really amazing and fun music but Devin just wasn’t into it anymore and I understand that. He said he didn’t want to be a metal guy anymore so there you go. I respect his decision and I wasn’t upset about it. I just thought, ok, we’ll just carry on. It happened at quite an unfortunate time because things were getting really good with Strapping and we all devoted a lot of our lives to the band. I devoted a lot of my life and my soul and my poverty into Strapping. I spent a lot of years eating complete shit to be in Strapping and then when we finally got to the point where our eating shit might start to pay off, that was when Devin pulled the plug. What can you do? He is happy and that is all that matters.

Strapping Young Lad was already disbanded once before and then Devin brought it back again to make ‘S.Y.L’. Do you think that there is any possibility that Strapping Young Lad might get back together?

Well that’s the thing with Dev, you never know what could happen. It is totally up to Devin. But either way I’m not sure I would be able to do it anyway. I’m pretty booked solid for the next year. If he wants to bring us back then that’s up to him but I doubt that he will.

« I tried to pay respect to what Raymond (Herrera) did. He is a great drummer and when I joined I knew that there were some big shoes to fill but I had a feeling that I could do it. »
When Devin Townsend disbanded Strapping Young Lad, the remaining members, which includes Jed Simons, Byron Stroud and yourself formed a new band called Tenet. And it is actually totally in the same ultra violent and extreme vain. Do you see this band as an extension of Strapping Young Lad somehow?

No I don’t view it as an extension at all. I view it as Jed’s baby. Jed was a major songwriter in Strapping so if anything sounds a lot like Strapping then it’s because he wrote a lot of the songs. Despite what a lot of people might think, we all wrote a lot in Strapping. Of course that the majority was written by Devin Townsend, however, we were all writers in the band. If Tenet sounds a lot like Strapping, then it is purely coincidental. This is a project that Jed had been planning and writing material for years even before he joined Strapping. There is more of a Tenet influence on Strapping Young Lad than there ever was an influence of Strapping young Lad on Tenet, if that makes sense.

How did you convince ex-Exodus singer Steve Souza to join the band?

Well we didn’t really have to convince him because Glen (Alvalais) called him up and asked if he wanted to play on this record and he said yes. I thought that his vocals are really cool on it.

I guess that we could call them some very extreme vocals.

Yeah. I was very surprised that he could sing like that and I wish he sounded like that a lot more because it was really cool.

Can we expect a second album any time soon?

I know that Jed is working on some new material right now and it is really awesome. I don’t know if it will be for Tenet but I told him that I wanted to work on it and it sounds really good. I’m sure that Zimmers Hole is going to be coming out with some new stuff pretty soon too.

Are you going to be touring France with Fear Factory or any other of your projects?

I’m sure that we are. I know that we played Hellfest last month. I’m sure that we will tour France sometime soon.

Are there going to be any shows with Mechanism?

I hope so. It has been a long time since we have been together and played. I have been very busy with Fear Factory at the moment.

Perhaps Mechanism could provide for the opening act.

We have been doing things like that. For example, with Divine Heresy is on the road with Fear Factory right now and on the last tour, one of my bands from Cleveland called Pitch Black Forecast was opening for a few shows in the Mid-West. We are all doubling up on the shows here so you never know what might happen in the future for Mechanism.

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